Working in Finance

By Ringside Talent Partners

June 26, 2024

Recent and soon-to-be college graduates have different visions of the “perfect job”: Some want to work in New York, while others might aspire to be their own bosses.

But many Gen Zers are dreaming of a career in finance.

Finance is considered to be the most desirable, stable sector to work in among 18-25-year-olds, beating tech, health care and education, according to a new report from the CFA Institute, a non-profit focused on financial education.

Close to 10,000 current college students and recent graduates in 13 countries including the U.S., Canada and Mexico were polled for the report.

The survey results are a stark contrast to those of 2021, when finance was ranked fifth in popularity among college students and recent graduates, behind the same industries as well as business.

To be sure, finance has not been immune to the challenges that have afflicted tech, health care, education and other industries, including — but not limited to — overhiring, employee burnout and battles over returning to the office.

What has set finance apart from its competitors, and made it the career path du jour among Gen Z, is how finance companies have responded to these challenges.

As other industries pause hiring, college career advisors and industry professionals say financial firms are upping their recruiting efforts on college campuses to attract Gen Z.

Financial firms are eyeing the campus hires tech has left behind

A-J Aronstein has been counseling college students on their careers for 15 years — and 2023, he says, “has been the worst year for rescinded job offers in tech” that he has ever seen.

Financial firms, seeing the chance to hire engineers, developers and data scientists, are scooping up the talent unlocked by layoffs and hiring freezes in Silicon Valley.

“These companies are approaching us and asking for opportunities to be present on campus to recruit business and computer science majors,” says Aronstein, who is now the assistant vice president of lifelong success at Barnard College. “They’re investing more time and money on campuses, and showing a clear interest in widening their talent pipelines, when other companies have pulled back.”

On Barnard’s campus, there has been a consistent increase in the number of graduates working in finance between 2020 and 2022: 13% of graduates in the class of 2020 entered the finance field, while 18% of the class of 2022 found finance jobs. Aronstein expects this number to be even higher for the class of 2023.

Financial firms are facing a “more competitive market for talent” than they were 10 years ago “when they almost always had the first pick of hiring graduates from top colleges and universities,” says Rhodri Preece, senior head of research at the CFA Institute. One way they’re setting themselves apart, he adds, is by being the most visible on campuses.

Larger companies like JPMorgan Chase and Fidelity Investments are hosting more online job fairs and on-campus recruiting events compared to years past, says Christine Cruzvergara, chief education strategy officer at Handshake, a networking platform serving more than 13 million college students.

Their efforts are paying off: Handshake has seen a 26% increase in applications to full-time finance jobs this year compared to 2022. JPMorgan Chase received over 8,000 applications alone on Handshake from tech majors since the start of 2023, a 74% increase in the number of applications from tech talent last year.

Promises of stability and a six-figure paycheck

Driven by inflation and concerns around layoffs, Gen Z is prioritizing stable employment and salary over location and brand name in their job search — one of the main reasons they’re showing less interest in working for tech companies, according to recent data from Handshake.

Wall Street has been hit by layoffs and hiring freezes, too. But it’s worse in tech: Amazon, Meta and other tech companies have cut nearly 200,000 jobs since October, more than twice as many as finance, Bloomberg reports.

In a precarious job market, Gen Zers are going where fewer roles are cut.

“Financial firms have existed through a lot of ups and downs,” Cruzvergara points out. “It feels more secure to go work for a company that has been around for 50 or 100 years versus a startup that didn’t exist 10 years ago.”

The most popular careers among young professionals are those with high-income potential, the CFA Institute found — and entry-level salaries in finance have remained relatively high in recent years. Investment banking analysts at major firms can expect to make nearly $200,000 in their first year out of college, CNBC has previously reported.

Even if some finance employers are falling short on their promises to offer flexible work options, Cruzvergara says more young people are willing to trade the freedom of working from home for job security and a solid salary. “It might be a difficult trade-off to make,” she adds, “but you can’t always get everything you want from a job on your list.”